The Falcons roster had holes at, outside of quarterback, arguably the three most important groups on the field: defensive line, offensive line, secondary.
Defensive DVOA rank: 14th
There was a lot of negativity around the defense, and it’s obvious they struggled at times. It’s also not fair to the group to say they were the reason this team didn’t succeed. They held teams to 24 points or less in nine games last season. The way the league has changed the rules over the years, a great defensive performance at this point is holding a team to the low 20’s. You aren’t going to be able to hold even marginal offenses below 20 on a consistent basis.
The problem the Falcons had was they had very little pass rush. They ranked 26th in sack percentage. They fell into the trap of thinking that Dante Fowler was a great pass rusher, when in fact he was a great “stand next to Aaron Donald“er. They way overpaid for him. If it wasn’t for another great year from Grady Jarrett, they probably would have been dead last in every major pass rushing statistic.
The secondary wasn’t as bad as the pass rush, but they weren’t good. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Keanu Neal had good years, everyone else was somewhere between okay, and a liability. The Falcons have been drafting to solve the problem, but they’ll need time to develop. AJ Terrell had an okay year considering he’s a rookie, and Kendall Sheffield is looking like his ceiling might be as an acceptable backup.
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Offensive DVOA rank: 21st
The offense was the real offender this year. Atlanta had the 26th ranked red zone touchdown percentage last year. It’s just not good enough to win in today’s NFL. Why did they have so much trouble punching it in, in the red zone? Atlanta fans know.
The offensive line.
The pass blocking for the Falcons clearly wasn’t good, but when rushers know you can’t run, they come hunting. And oh the Falcons could not run. Todd Gurley obviously doesn’t look like the same player from a couple of years ago, and Brian Hill isn’t exactly blowing people away, but they didn’t stand a chance. The offensive line just could not get any push, or open any holes.
Teams that can’t run the ball have an extremely hard time scoring in short yardage. When the field is condensed, you’re limited in your options (see the Chiefs 3 field goals in the Superbowl). Once the deep and intermediate ball is off the table, the opposing team has to at least THINK you might run it. The second-year guard Chris Lindstrom was great and Jake Matthews was good, everything else is beyond replaceable. Kaleb McGary still has potential, and the ideal is he becomes a consistent starter going forward, even if he’s never an elite bookend tackle.
The only other real issue Atlanta had was Julio Jones. There is no denying that Jones on the field is massive for Matt Ryan and the offense in general. He and Calvin Ridley as a one-two punch are hard to stop. Jones was dealing with a hamstring injury almost the entire year. Even in the games he played through it, he wasn’t the same player. They’ll need a complement for Ridley (who has shown he’s a number one in this league) going forward.
The bad offensive line, injured passing attack, and average running back talent equals bad offense.